Last Friday saw the commencement the Portlaoise team’s national league campaign of the 2011/12 season, as St Mary’s Hall welcomed the defending champions Castleisland.
Following last years playoff defeat at the hands of Castleisland, the Portlaoise side were keen to seek revenge over their rivals and set a precedent for the coming season.
Portlaoise had the better start of the two teams, drawing two fouls from the first two offences of the game as team Garvey’s struggled to cope with the pace of newcomer Alan O’Neill on the point.
Subsequent baskets from the experienced Peter O’Sullivan and Greg Dunne saw the home side establish an early lead. However, slack defence on sharp shooter Declan Wall, who scored 27 points in their last meeting, saw him net a fine three which spurred on his team as they secured a five point lead at the end of the quarter.
On his debut for this new look Portlaoise side, O’Neill was impressive throughout as he took control of his team and lead from the top scoring 8 points of his teams tally in the second quarter keeping them within 6 points of the champions at the half.
The Portlaoise defence grew in confidence as Pierce Fagan took control of the boards and Declan Kearney forced the opposition into turnovers which they capitalised on at the other end of the court through another newcomer, Polish power forward Dan Debosz.
He imposed himself on the game using his strength to penetrate through the Castleisland defence from outside the arc, seeing Portlaoise draw level for the first time in the game at the end of the fourth.
With the crowd behind the home team and momentum on their side, they were in with a roaring chance of dethroning the champions. Two consecutive baskets from Dunne got them off to the better start but three cheap fouls given away by the Portlaoise defence saw team Garvey’s punish them from the line.
Simkus stepped off the bench to nail a fine three for the home side which had the crowd on their feet. With the sides level for the fourth time in the quarter, Casleisland answered back with a well taken score from Fleming.
As the clock ticked down, Portlaoise could not manage another basket to secure extra time and Castleisland ran out overall winners by the narrowest of margins over the disappointed home side.
Team: David Walsh, Gedimnas Simkus, Daniel Deboz, Greg Dunne, David Glynn, Peirce Fagan, Jack Scully, Juan Marchal, Declan Kearney, Peter O’Sullivan, Alan O’Neill. Coach: John Fennelly.